Friday, March 31, 2017

3/31/1922 Lionel Davidson is born

March 31, 1922.  On this date Hull, Yorkshire, welcomed Lionel Davidson to the world.  He went on to write some excellent spy novels, winning the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award three times, as well as their Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement. The Telegraph called him "the best spy novelist you might not have read."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3/30/1894 Ronald Adair dies before an empty house

March 30, 1894.  On this date the Honourable Ronald Adair was murdered by (spoiler alert) Colonel Sebastian Moran, formerly the right-hand-man of the evil Professor Moriarty.  This was the case that brought the supposedly dead Sherlock Holmes out of exile in "The Adventure of the Empty House."  And you thought he came back because Doyle needed the money.  Shame on you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

3/29/1996 Nash Bridges shows up

March 29, 1996.  On this date Don Johnson, star of Miami Vice, returned to TV as Nash Bridges, a fun-loving San Francisco cop.   Cheech Marin played his partner.  The show was filmed in the city by the bay, with permanent sets on Treasure Island. 122 episodes of this San Francisco treat. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

3/28/1912 Lucille Fletcher is born

March 28, 1912.  How many people are best known for writing radio drama?  One of them was Lucille Fletcher, who wrote the classic Sorry, Wrong Number.  Orson Welles, no slouch himself in the field, called it "the greatest single radio script ever written." She adapted it into a hit movie starring Barbara Stanwyck.  It has also been turned into not one but two operas.

Speaking of Orson Welles, he performed her radio drama "The Hitch-Hiker," which later appeared on The Twilight Zone.

Fletcher also wrote novels, but her heart belonged to the wireless.

Monday, March 27, 2017

3/27/1973 The Godfather makes an offer Oscar can't refuse

March 27, 1973.  On this date Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's stunning mafia novel, The Godfather, won the Oscar for Best Picture.  It also won for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Oh, and eight other nominations.

The Mystery Writers of America, having one of their special moments, gave the Edgar for Best Motion Picture to Sleuth, which is reasonable, I guess.  But the other movies they nominated were The Hot Rock, Frenzy, The Carey Treatment, and Travels With My Aunt. 

The Carey Treatment?

Anyway, Coppola/Puzo repeated a few years later with Best Picture for Godfather Part II but couldn't quite pull off the hat trick, since Part III only got a nomination.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

3/26/1904 J.F. Straker born

March 26, 1904.  I can't tell you much about J.F. Straker because there isn't much about him on the web.  Born on this date in Kent, UK.  Served in the army during World War II.  Taught math.  And wrote some mystery novels with amazing titles, like Goodbye, Aunt Charlotte!,  Sin and Johnny Inch, and A Pity It Wasn't George.  His Hell is Empty (another great title) was filmed in 1967. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

3/25/1951 Lady, You're Dead!

March 25, 1981.  Ellery Queen's story "Lady, You're Dead!" appeared in This Week magazine on this day.  When it appeared in an Ellery Queen book the title changed to "Driver's Seat,"  which was presumably the one they preferred.

Perhaps this was karma striking back at Frederic Dannay, one half of the writing team, since he had a reputation for ruthlessly changing titles of stories  that appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which he edited.

Friday, March 24, 2017

3/24/2015 MWA gets cooking

March 24, 2015.  This date saw the publication of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.   It features recipes by such stalwarts as Rhys Bowen, Alafair Burke, Nelson DeMille, Lindsay Faye, BIll Fitzhugh, Sue Grafton, David Housewright, Margaret Maron, Sarah Paretsky, James Patterson, and on and on.

Consdiering how many fictional poisonings they are responsible for I don't know if I want to put them in charge of my dinner.  Maybe you'll be safe with Lee Child's "Coffee, Pot of One."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2/23/1994 Death gets Superior

3/23/1994.  This was the publication date for A Superior Death, a Nevada Barr novel about park ranger Anna Pigeon.  This time she is on the north shore of Lake Superior,dealing with an extra corpse in the wreck of an old ship.  Kirkus Reviews called it "A crackling good mystery, fleshed out by a detective and a supporting cast far more human than they need to be."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

3/22/1971 Ross Macdonald, cover boy

March 22, 1971.  The issue of Newsweek with this cover date featured Ross Macdonald on the cover.  The occasion was the publication of The Underground Man, a Lew Archer novel that earned a front page review in the New York Times Book Review from no less than Eudora Welty.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3/21/2014 The Girl Next Door wins a prize

March 21, 2014.  In this date Brad Parks' novel The Girl Next Door won the Lefty Award, which is given out each year at Left Coast Crime for the best comic crime novel of the year.

The book was part of his series about Carter Ross,a newspaper reporter in Newark, NJ. The Girl Next Door involved union negotiations and Booklist called it a masterpiece.

Monday, March 20, 2017

3/20/1937 The Murderous Mr. Coon

March 20, 1937.  The issue of Detective Fiction Weekly with this cover date featured "The Murderous Mr. Coon," by Richard Sale.  You can read it here, courtesy of Evan Lewis, an excellent contemporary short story writer.

The story stars Daffy Dill, a New York newspaper reporter with an unfortunate name.

Sale also wrote novels, such as Not Too Narrow...Not Too Deep, and directed some movies, including Let's Make It Legal, one of Marilyn's first flicks.  (Oh, you know perfectly well which Marilyn.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3/19/1987 Inspector Rebus arrives

March 19, 1987.  Ian Rankin wrote Knots and Crosses, published on this date, while a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.  It was the first novel to feature John Rebus (who happened to live just across the street from Rankin.  Amazing coincidence.)  Rankin claimed he was amazed to discover that he had written a crime novel, a genre with which he was unfamiliar.  He seems to have warmed up to the field. Rebus #20 will be published soon.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

3/18/1954 Marko Vukcic is murdered

March 18, 1954.  On this date Marko Vukcic was gunned down in New York City.  Besides being the owner of Rusterman's, a posh eatery, he was also the best friend of Nero Wolfe.  His death led Wolfe and Archie Goodwin on one of their most spectular - and frankly unbelievable - adventures.  The Black Mountain found the rotund detective marching his seventh-of-a-ton through the hills of Yugoslavia, his homeland, in search of the killer.  Does Wolfe find him?  Well, duh.

Friday, March 17, 2017

3/17/1904 Patrick Hamilton is born

March 17, 1904.  Happy St Patrick's Day.  This holiday no doubt had something to do with the first name of today's subject.  Patrick Hamilton was born near Brighton, England on this date.  Doris Lessing called him "a marvelous novelist who's grossly neglected," but we are mostly interested in two plays he wrote; Gaslight and Rope..Yes, that is where the idea of gaslighting someone (to make them think they are going crazy) came from.  And Rope was made into a very creepy movie by Alfred Hitchcock, remembered today mostly because Jimmy Stewart played a somewhat sinister philosophy professor who inspires the bad guys to murder, and because Hitchcock filmed it as if it were one long camera shot.  (Many years later Birdman used the same stunt.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3/16/1897 Sherlock Holmes sees the Devil's Foot

March 16, 1897.  On this date, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in Cornwall for Holmes's health, encounter a bizarre case of madness and murder.  "The Adventure of the Devils Foot" was one of Conan Doyle's favorite Sherlock Holmes stories.  One stand-out feature: Good old Watson saves Holmes' life.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

3/15/1948 Ludwig Wittgenstein praises you-know-what

March 15, 1948.  Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century.  One doesn't necessarily think of such folks as reading hard-boiled detective fiction, but one might be wrong.

On this date he wrote a letter in which he compared philosophy journals to crime publications: "Your mags are wonderful.  How people can read Mind if they could read Street & Smith ['s Detective Story Magazine] beats me.  If philosophy has anything to do with wisdom there’s certainly not a grain of that in Mind, and quite often a grain in the detective stories.”

A few years earlier he had jokingly complained about the end of the lend-lease agreement between the United States and his adopted home of Great Britain: "if the U.S.A. won’t give us detective mags we can’t give them philosophy ...”

You can read more about this at Mystery*FIle's article.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

3/14/1869 Algernon Blackwood breaks the silence

March 14, 1869.  Algernon Blackwood was born on this date in Kent.  He is considered one of the great horror writers. His works include a collection of short stories about Dr. John Silence, one of the first "psychic" investigators.  The physician copes with a variety of ghosts, werewolves, and ghoulies and modern reviewer Marvin P. Vernon said the collected Silence stories are "an essential collection" fr any fan of British supernatural fiction.

Monday, March 13, 2017

3/13/1963 Miranda arrest

March 13, 1963.  On this date Ernesto Miranda was arrested by the Phoenix, Arizona police.  He signed a confession of kidnapping and rape, saying he had "full knowledge of his legal rights," but no one had told him he was entitled to a lawyer, nor to remain silent.

Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that was unconstitutional, leading to the Miranda Warning, famous in many court cases and thousands of crime novels.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

3/12/2001 Rubert Ludlum passes

March 12, 2001.  I don't usually discuss the deaths of authors, preferring to stick to their births like the chipper little optimist I am.  But some special cases deserve a mention.

Robert Ludlum's thrillers made him quite rich.  Movies like The Bourne Identity made him more so.  In January 2001 he signed a new will leaving his second wife, Karen Dunn, something in the range of five million dollars.

Less than a month later firefighters were called to his house and found him on fire.  That's right;  he was  in a reclining chair, too weak to get up, and he was burning.  According to his nephew:

The cause of the fire was inexplicable. Fire crews were astonished to find Robert still ablaze a full six minutes after the emergency services had first been called. Our investigators have also established that fire extinguishers throughout the house had been left untouched. Certainly, Karen had not bothered to put out the flames.

Instead firefighters found her in the kitchen, belligerent and uncooperative. 'F*** off, I'm fixing myself a drink,' she told them.

He died a month later, not long after returning home from the hospital.  No charges were filed.

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

3/11/1952. Douglas Adams meets life, the universe, and everything

March 11, 1952.  On this date Cambridge, England welcomed the newborn Douglas Adams.  He wrote for radio, Doctor Who, computer games, and brilliant, hilarious novels.  He was best known for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, but he also wrote two novels about the unique private eye Dirk Gently, owner of the world's only holistic detective agency.  "We solve the WHOLE crime.  We find the WHOLE person."  His cases involved an electronic monk (who believed in things so you didn't have to) and the god Thor (and his odd relationship with a soda machine).  Douglas, alas, died young, in 2001.

Friday, March 10, 2017

3/10/1992 Prey gets Silent

March 10, 1992.  Silent Prey was published on this date.  It was John Sandford's fourth book about Minneapolis cop Lucas Daveport.  Publsihers Weekly  called it a "streamlined thriller" with a story that "never drags."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

3/9/1910 William Campbell Gault is born

March 9, 1910.  William Campbell Gault was born on this date.  He won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 1953, for Don't Cry For Me.  Exactly 30 years later he won the Shamus for Best Paperback P.I. novel for The Cana Diversion.  A year after that the Private Eye Writers of America gave him the Eye for lifetime achievement. His most famous character was Brock Callahan, football player turned Beverly Hills  private eye.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

3/8/1991 La Femme Nikita infiltrates America

March 8, 1991.  This date saw the American release of a terrific crime movie.  La Femme Nikita is about a drug-using anarchist who commits robbery and murder.  The state says "That's our girl!" and sends her to a special training school for assassins/spies.

"There are two things that are infinite: feminity and means to take advantage of it."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

3/7/1963 Such A Killing Crime

March 7, 1963.  On this date the action begins in the novel Such A Killing Crime, set in Greenwich Village during the Great Folk Music Scare.  Joe Talley runs a coffee house in New York.  When one of his favorite singers is killed on his stage he hunts for the man's missing demo tape, which may lead him to a killer...

Monday, March 6, 2017

3/6/1831 They can't make a soldier out of Poe

March 6, 1831.  On this date Edgar Allan Poe was expelled from West Point.  No good will ever come of that boy.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

3/5/1982 Evil Under the Sun exposed

March 5, 1982.  This day saw the premiere of Evil Under the Sun, the second of six movies in which Peter Ustinov played Agatha Christie's master sleuth Hercule Poirot.  The cast included Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Sarah Miles, James Mason, and Roddy McDowall.  Anthony Shaffer was nominated for an Edgar for the screenplay.

Poirot: "Really to count, a woman must have either goodness or brains."

Dame Agatha had at least one of the above.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

3/4/1982 Police Squad!

March 4, 1982.  Sad but true fact about television: you can't assume the people watching it are actually watching it.  Maybe they are knitting, or reading, or doing God knows what, and just using their ears to follow what's going on on the tube.  That may have been what doomed Police Squad!, one of the funniest shows that ever lasted a mere six episodes.

It was full of scenes in which the main cops, Leslie Nielsen and Alan North, would be gravely discussing the crime investigation while utterly bizarre things went on around them.  For example, in one episode they were chatting in an elevator in the police station.  A woman in a bathing suit gets in on one floor and, at the next she dived out, straight into a swimming pool which happened to be just outside the elevator.  Neither of the cops found this particularly noteworthy.  And the half-asleep viewers missed it too.

Each episode began with a Special Guest Star being murdered, never to be mentioned again in the story.

Fortunately the producers, same folks who created Airplane!, recycled the idea as the Naked Gun movie series.  And in theatres, people were watching.

Friday, March 3, 2017

3/3/1927 Nicolas Freeling born

March 3, 1927.  Nicolas Freeling was born on this date in London.  He created an Amsterdam police detective named Van Der Valk but finally got sick of him and killed him.  Unlike Holmes, Van Der Valk agreed to stay dead.  He then created a French cop, Henri Castang.

His novel The King of the Rainy Country won the Edgar for Best Mystery in 1967.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

3/2/1929 The Saint goes short

March 2, 1929.  The issue of The Thriller  with this cover date featured "Story of a Dead Man," by Leslie Charteris.  (And what a great cover!)  It was the first short story to feature his most famous creation, The Saint.  Simon Templar had already appeared in a 1928 novel, Meet the Tiger.  Since then he has appeared in movies, TV, radio, and probably Egyptian heiroglyphics.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

3/1/1979 Barber and Butcher and Broadway

March 1, 1979.  On this date Broadway saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a musical thriller created by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler.  The story originated in Victorian times and had gone through many variations.  Todd is a barber who kills and robs his customers, after which his partner Mrs. Lovett disposes the evidence by turning them into meat pies.  You don't have to be a psychologist to see this as based in fear of barbers with straight razors and sellers of dubious cuisine.